Irish farmers have a new beefAnthony Garvey
IRISH farmers are refusing to supply cattle to the country's processing plants in a battle for what they claim are the minimum prices that will enable them to stay in business.
It is the second major confrontation between the factories and producers in just over a year. The dispute, which began this week, could threaten Irish meat exports of about 200,000 tonnes a year to the UK.
The boycott of the plants has been organised by the 100,000-strong Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), which is demanding a guaranteed minimum price of 95p per lb deadweight (more than £2 per kilo) for quality animals and 90p for lower grades.
The Irish Meat Association, representing processors, insists, however, that international demand for beef is slow, especially in Britain, where it claims Argentinian imports are making a significant impact.
John Smith, spokesman for the processors, said the slaughter lines in some factories had now been closed because they could not afford to pay the prices Irish producers are demanding.
IFA officials and executives of the major processing companies, including the Larry Goodman-owned Anglo-Irish Beef Processors, Kepak and Dawn Meats, failed to resolve the dispute at a meeting in Dublin. Afterwards, however, Derek Deane, chairman of the IFA's livestock committee, said there were indications that more than one third of the 25 plants were now prepared to pay the minimum prices.
Last year an IFA blockade closed down the processing industry for more than a week and won significant price improvements. John Dillon, who led that campaign, was recently elected president of the association and has warned that the fight for minimum prices is also a fight for survival.
Irish producers had been counting on the reopening of the live trade to Egypt to boost prices. But despite agreement at government level to resume exports, halted because of the BSE crisis, no orders have yet been placed, leaving processors in a position to dictate prices.
Thursday, 14th March 2002